Ken Jones: Move over Sven, it's time for Sir Clive to turn England into a team of winners

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The Independent Football

The scene is a committee room at the Football Association headquarters in Soho Square. It is furnished in the modern style, with a council table of polished wood, upholstered chairs, fitted carpet and walls painted a restful colour.

At the head of the table sits Mark Palios, chief executive of the FA, flanked by other office holders and a man representing the England captain, David Beckham, who has sent an apology for his absence due to commercial activity. At the foot of the table stands a squat metal contraption with electric wires affixed. The seat, obviously hot, is unoccupied.

Palios calls the meeting to order, holding up a newspaper cutting. "Gentlemen, I think we should again acknowledge England's great success in the Rugby World Cup, an inspiration to us all. But to business. It says here that the England coach, Clive Woodward, clearly a man of many talents, and obviously no soft touch, quite fancies the idea of taking over our team. I have not had the opportunity to speak personally with Woodward, but in view of the failures we have endured since 1966, I think this is something we might seriously consider. Of course, it would cost us a nice few quid to dispense with the services of the present coach, however, this ought not to be an insurmountable obstacle."

His words cause a great deal of excitement. Eyes are bright with anticipation. "I think it's a marvellous idea," someone says. "I can't imagine that Woodward is in touch with football, but going on results you could say that about some of the people we foolishly employed. Apart from anything else he's English through and through, which would go down well with Little Englanders in the press. Let's go for it." Heads nod, fists drum in unison. There is only one dissenting voice: Beckham's representative. "I'm here to protect my client's interests," he says. "As I understand it, Woodward prefers his players to keep a low profile off the field. That won't please David."

Palios calls for silence. "I fully understand the point about David, but what with all the attention rugby is now getting in newspapers and television these are difficult times, and in my view it's time for drastic action. With your permission I shall approach Woodward."

Three months later negotiations for Woodward's release by the Rugby Football Union have been concluded, and he addresses England's footballers. His tracksuit bears three lions on the breast rather than a red rose. He speaks to the assembled company. "Forget my knighthood. You can call me Clive. My appointment may have surprised you but there isn't any reason why we can't work together. I'm dealing with a different-shaped ball, but the principles are the same. Winning is our only friend. We won't be going to the World Cup to entertain. A system of play? Well, that's something I intend to brush up on. After all, things have changed a great deal since I did a spot of football coaching while at Loughborough University. But you can be sure that I'll take the best ideas from wherever I can: rugby union, rugby league, American football, Aussie rules, hurling, the Eton Wall game. Somebody has suggested that I speak with Muhammad Ali, which sounds like a very good idea."

Hearing this, a group of FA officials nod approvingly. "I must admit to having harboured some doubts but I think we've got the right man," one says. "He's a breath of fresh air. No more nonsense about four-four this and four-three that, sweepers and left-sided midfielders. What worked for Woodward in rugby can work for us. The future is playing for free-kicks and corners."

A television interviewer steps forward. "Sir Clive, er, Clive can you tell us how you intend to play? You've got a reputation for drawing on ideas from all over the world, so, for example do you favour the Brazilian or the French way?" Woodward smiles. "Well, I put paid to the French in Sydney you know, and I don't recall facing Brazil although from what I've seen that Ronaldo would make one hell of an outside centre. No, I want England to play like England. For Harry and St George."

Back in his office at Soho Square, the new England coach puts in a call to Sir Alex Ferguson. "Alex - I think we can dispense with formalities - Alex, this is Clive. I feel it is time we had a chat about future arrangements, you know the sort of thing: where we stand over the release of players for matches and so on. I'm counting on the support I got in rugby...

"Sorry Alex, but I didn't quite get what you just said."

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